We are in the six month of 2011. Within the last year, we have seen social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook being used to help organize and inform others of mass protests against regimes in the Middle East. Dubbed the “Arab Spring”, these protests have taken down several regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. These movements have also turned violent as other Middle Eastern autocrats refuse to let go of power and have turned their armies and internal security forces on their own people. There is internationally backed (disputed) armed rebellion [civil war] in Libya. Meanwhile in Syria, citizens are being slaughtered and tortured for protesting and gathering in public (i.e. funerals). It’s citizens are being chased into Turkey and Lebanon. In Bahrain (home to the United States’ 5th Fleet), mass protests have sprung up several times resulting in violent crackdowns, mass arrests of participants and the hospital workers treating the victims and show trials.
Also in use during the turbulent times around the globe, mobile phones. Not only are mobile phones good for sending mass text messages, informing people of protests, they have also become the electronic eye – showing the rest of us what people are witnessing and experiencing themselves. Video recorded via mobile phone has become the proof that we all need to see in order for us to wake up and say to ourselves, “What the hell is going on in this world?” (You can see Al Jazeera’s collection of video from Syria here)
Meanwhile in America…
Recently, there have been reports of people being arrested and charged after recording video of police while their are conducting searches and, as in this video from Miami, executing suspects. Note: the guy hit a couple of officers while trying to get away. A couple of shots stopped the car and after a minute police put over a 100 rounds in the car and wounded 4 bystanders in the process.
The problem now is that some states are having problems deciding if recording the police in action violates wiretapping laws. In Maryland, Anthony Graber was arrested after speeding – basically being an asshole with a crotch rocket – down a highway on his motorcycle. He had a helmet mounted camera that was recording while he was riding. The video was subsequently uploaded to YouTube. Graber’s home was then raided, his computers were seized and he was taken to jail on charges of wiretapping from which he could receive 16 years in jail.
What the Graber incident shows to myself and other people is some man jumping out of his car (supposedly an unmarked unit) with his gun drawn. He then identifies himself as “state police”, even though he produces no ID and is in plain clothes. He sees the camera on Graber’s helmet and puts his gun away.
In Rochester, New York, Emily Good was arrested after failing to comply with police orders to put her camera away and go in her house while they were conducting a search of a man’s car. The problem is, according to HuffPo, not only is it legal – in New York state – to record police in action, she was also doing it from her front sidewalk and then her front yard.
In the Miami incident, the police smashed several cameras including Narces Benoit’s phone. In the video, you can see police approach the car he was in with his girlfriend with guns drawn. He hid the phone’s memory card in his mouth to avoid it being taken away.
Protection from the “protectors”
I’m not one of these jerks yelling out, “Fuck the police!” every time one bad apple does something well, bad. And let’s be honest here, most police are good people just trying to do the right thing. Unfortunately, they get a bad rap thanks to those bad apples who are no better than the thugs and criminals they are supposed to protect us from. That’s why, just like in American government, you need a system of checks and balances. The only real tool or, check and balance citizens have when dealing with bad police is the video camera (or audio recording). Otherwise it’s their word against yours.
Remember a few things:
- Check the laws in your state. If you can’t find any about video recording then check wiretapping laws. Google/Bing is your friend.
- Be civil when stopped by an officer. Don’t talk back, don’t fight back. YOU WILL LOSE! Ask questions but, be civil and respectful.
- Give officers doing their jobs room to do their jobs – regardless of whether they are kicking the crap out of someone or not. In this video, the person recording Washington D.C. Metro Police officers manhandling a handicapped man started recording the video at a safe enough distance. Then, he moved in within a couple of feet of one of the officers from behind him. The person recording the video should be glad the officer didn’t take him down as well. The situation is bad enough without them worrying whether or not someone is going to grab their gun from behind and put a bullet in their head.